The Dirty Hands Mandate: Why Serving Your Enemies Isn’t Optional
The Last Supper. It’s a famous image: Jesus and his disciples gathered for their final Passover meal together. There are other noteworthy Holy Week images too: Jesus in Gethsemane, Christ carrying the cross and the crucifixion itself. There is, however, a pivotal scene in this sequence that’s often overlooked.
The image of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
John’s gospel says, “… he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:4-5). There is something about this moment that mystifies me. Jesus knows Judas Iscariot is going to betray him, not in some unforeseen future. He’s going to do it tonight.
Eventually, Jesus does dismiss Judas to do what he’s set out to do. But he only does so after he washes everyone’s feet. Including the feet of Judas.
What is Jesus thinking when he pours water over Judas’s dusty toes?
What is he feeling when he wipes his calloused heel?
What does he refrain from saying when he’s drying those treacherous feet?
Jesus doesn’t target, chastise or confront Judas.
He doesn’t fully expose him or publicly shame him.
He simply serves him in the same way he serves the other eleven.
Then, to drive his point home, he adds, “… since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).
Don’t miss the scandalous challenge here: You ought to wash each other’s feet.
Even when the other is wrong.
Even when the betrayal is real and not simply perceived.
Even when they sell you out for personal gain.
Even when they fail to honor your dignity, your personhood, your point of view.
Even when it’s not appealing, do as I have done to you.
Why does Jesus take off his robe before he kneels down to wash feet?
Because he likely only has one robe and he knows this is going to be messy.
Jesus fully anticipates getting dirt under his fingernails and getting his forearms soaked in nasty water.
And Jesus expects the same from us. The hallmark of an authentic Jesus-follower is a clean heart and dirty hands. This is not optional. It’s not spiritual extra credit; it is a fundamental requirement of someone who aims to walk in Jesus’s footsteps. If we were hoping to skate through this life with a pristine robe and finely manicured fingertips, this is our wake-up call.
Fill up a bucket. Hang up your robe. Grab a towel. Get down on your knees.
And start cleansing Judas’s arches. I think we’ll find the Jesus we’re looking for there.